The party started. The draw for the FIFA World Cup was held on Friday evening at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre. The Netherlands play in the group stage, which begins in November, against Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador. In 2010, the Qatari unexpectedly received the award for the largest football event in the world. ‘Ridiculous’, national coach Louis van Gaal thinks – but there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Immediately after the commissioning, rumors of bribery began to spread. The assignment to Qatar was followed by investigations, mainly by American justice, some of which are still ongoing. Thanks to the work of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and several investigative journalists, much is now clear about the methods and motives of operating in Qatar. It is a story of bribes, spies, witnesses, interrogations and greed for money. Or, as Van Gaal put it recently: “We are playing in a country that FIFA says wants to develop football there. That is already the case. Bullshit […] It’s about money and business interests.”
FIFA, the organizer of the World Cup, has long been prone to corruption. The World Cup deserves a lot. Every channel dreams of being able to broadcast the World Cup. Many countries want to organize the tournament. After all, it is watched by so many people that it could generate hundreds of millions for a television network and billions for an organized country’s economy.
In short, the World Cup is very popular. Until the World Cup allocations for Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022), there were 24 people who decided which country should host the World Cup and how to distribute advertising rights (sponsorship, TV). This combination of power and interests has led to widespread corruption in FIFA, as the past two decades have shown.
Of the drivers who awarded the World Cup to Qatar (and to Russia), the majority are now in jail on suspicion of corruption and taking bribes. Former FIFA President Blatter was removed from his post and suspended for several years. The distribution of the World Cup is now different and more democratic, but “Qatar” can still be considered an echo of a rotten past.
In 2013, the former US director of FIFA, Chuck Blazer (who has since passed away) actually admitted bribery in the allocation of the World Cups in France (1998) and South Africa (2010). The Gold Cup of countries from North and Central America and the Caribbean were tied to arise to allow corruption. The organizers envisioned the tournament just so they could get kickbacks from TV stations and marketing agencies. People would have watched the tournament anyway.
Spying with a CIA Agent
Against this background and mores in FIFA, Qatar decided to take a chance on organizing the World Cup in 2022. In those years, the desert nation was busy gaining influence in major international football. In 2011, this led to the purchase of French club Paris Saint-Germain, just as other countries in the region buy European football clubs.
But this only happened after Qatar won the first prize in world football at the World Cup. And for that he went away. Last November, a survey conducted by a news agency AP Based on hundreds of leaked documents that Qatar hired the company of a former CIA agent to spy on other countries that wanted to host the tournament.
For example, ex-cop Kevin Chalker posted a spy disguised as a photojournalist to get into the face of rivals. The “photographer” accompanied FIFA officials who visited stadiums in the United States – who also wanted to host the World Cup – so that they could eavesdrop on the requirements they had to pay attention to.
Through Facebook, Chalker also attempted on behalf of Qatar to make contact with the “targets” – those participants in other countries who were on their way to make a “world cup bid”. He did this by impersonating an attractive woman for an officer who wanted to make an appointment with the target. The Netherlands was one of the other potential organizers (for the 2018 World Cup, voted at the same time), along with Belgium, although no evidence was found that Qatar had also spied in the Netherlands.
And of course there was the money. There is a laundry list of suspicious payments linked to Qatar, although a direct link to World Cup customization has not always been proven. From the expensive Rolex watches that German football director Karl-Heinz Rummenigge received after a trip to Qatar (he had to pay a fine because he couldn’t justify the gift at customs) to the job that was the son of Belgian football chief Michel D. Huge arrived in Qatar right after the vote for the 2022 World Cup. Both denied being linked to the World Cup.
Other payments are more clearly related to Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup.
The Brazilian director of FIFA who can vote on the allotment, Ricardo Teixeira, got 1.8 million euros in the bank account of his ten-year-old daughter by a “adviser” of World Cup plans. According to Teixeira, this is a “private matter”, although he does not have a track record. In 2012, the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office announced that Teixeira and his ex-father (former FIFA President Joao Havelange) had received more than $41 million in bribes during their football career.
There is more. Whistleblower Vaidra Al-Majed, who worked on Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup, told investigators at the ethics committee set up by FIFA that she had seen her colleagues agree to bribes to host the World Cup.
It happened in a hotel room during a football conference in the Angolan capital, Luanda. There, several African sports directors were said to have received promises of one and a half million dollars in return for voting for Qatar. This was later denied by the Confederation of African Football – the money was said to have been intended to “propose the Qatar Project”.
US Attorneys General
Strong evidence also came from Alejandro Burzaco, the Argentine businessman who became a witness before the US government in the corruption case against FIFA. Burzaco has admitted bribing at least 30 soccer executives to obtain broadcast rights to South American soccer tournaments and World Cup matches with a television company. It would be bribes totaling more than $160 million.
One of the directors Burzaco decided to make statements about Cannes, once again, the Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira. The statements were about Qatar, among other things. Burzaco told how in January 2011 he was invited to the apartment of Julio Grondona, the then president of the Argentine Football Association – one of the men who could vote for Qatar as organizer of the World Cup.
Grondona had a phone conversation with Teixeira in the apartment. When they hung up, Burzaco was instructed to give Grondona $1 million. Burzaco, in his stated statement: “[Grondona] He explained to me that Ricardo Teixeira owed him one million dollars in exchange for Qatar’s vote to host the World Cup.
Whether Teixeira and Grondona are involved in special agreements to “grant” the World Cup to Qatar, he does not know and does not care. He got used to the fact that football tournaments were given to each other in exchange for bribes.
The statement, as part of a larger mountain of evidence, prompted the US attorney general to state unequivocally in April 2020 for the first time that FIFA officials had allowed themselves to be bribed in the allocation of the World Cups in Russia and Qatar. The United States has accused three South American football executives of taking bribes to vote for Qatar. For prosecutors, this is the final piece in a years-long case against corruption at FIFA.
Little by little, it is becoming increasingly clear how the observation of “Qatar” ended up in the hands of now ousted FIFA President Blatter. Notable Qatari figures – the state continues to deny involvement in bribery – danced and cheered. World Cup preparations can begin. At that time, no one could have predicted that a human tragedy would follow – the many deaths that occurred during the construction of facilities in Qatar.
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of April 2, 2022
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